As many of you know I've been struggling with my mental health since the birth of my third daughter six years ago. The waves of disorienting dips into depression and anxiety, followed by periods of euphoric passion and creativity have felt similar to the contractions and expansions of labor.
Amaya's birth opened up something in me that changed the nature of how I see myself, the world, and my purpose. Even her pregnancy was different from my other daughters. She was my biggest baby and longest pregnancy. She had the most hair at birth and gifted me with the a full 5 months of nausea, vomiting and heartburn.
Everything was different. I was sure she was a boy!
I was a week "late" and found myself in that funny place where you know logically that with each passing day you are closer to meeting your baby, but viscerally the feeling is that you will be pregnant forever. That your body has somehow forgotten how to give birth.
And then it happens...in my case, I got a little acupuncture boost from my mom. Amaya was born the following evening. It was...
Magical. Raw. Primal. Soulful.
I spent early labor painting my belly cast, doing yoga, and swimming in the pool. It was the first birth where it felt more like pleasure than pain.
That is, until her waters released and then it became that bone-crushing tissue-splitting sensation that I always forget about until I'm back in it.
It's brutal, but -usually- brief in the larger scheme of labor. It's that liminal space between the surrender of opening and the more active effort of birthing. It's a sweaty, shaky, bloody, nauseating place where we tremble and moan and wonder if we were really made for this.
It's not a comfortable place, but it's a necessary place. Transition shows us what we are capable of and pushes the edges of our identity, no matter how we end up giving birth.
That's why birthing people often feel like they're dying. A part of us does die, and new parts are born.
The work of postpartum is to rest, replenish, and slow down enough to get to know your baby and notice that you are both in the midst of a developmental process. Your body, hormones, brain, emotions, families, and social networks change because you are going through a shift in identity. This unfolding is known as Matrescence. And if we know this and trust it we can rediscover ourselves again on the other side. But it can be ugly. And messy.
This has been my work through what has felt like a harrowing cocktail of postpartum depression and anxiety, midlife awakening, peri-menopause, and Dark Night of the Soul.
When I hit a dip I tend to retreat into my shadow cave. You won't see me much on social media or in your inbox. Instead I shrink into what feels like the smallest, safest version of myself because anything else feels like too much.
My last dip began mid-March and lasted until the end of May. Just days before my second annual Map for a New Motherhood summit and my middle daughter’s birthday, I felt the shadow creeping in again.
Not now, I told myself. I can’t afford to dive deep right now, there’s way too much on my plate.
But the shadow waits for no one and despite my best efforts I fell once again into the great Chasm.
How is it that in a place now so familiar to me, I always feel so lost?
I tried to look at the triggers.
There was the stress of putting on my second annual global summit and the fact that my Facebook ads were not delivering as they did the year before and so attendance would be less than desired and expected. This had me spinning into my “I’m a failure” story. Plus the frustration of having put so much time and energy into the interviews…for what? Yes, I can and will repurpose them for my podcast but that didn’t shift how I felt.
Then there were the layers of relationship loss.
I felt like Innana in the story of Innana’s Descent, being asked to give something up at each turn of the windy labyrinth into the underworld.
In my case it was a relationship that I had to leave behind at each threshold. The latest and greatest was my love partnership, which was falling away plus another dear sister-friend. I was heading back into single mamahood and just the thought of what that entails was enough to send me spinning into overwhelm. Now all the caretaking - meals, cleaning, bathing, laundry, etc. was on me. Plus the stress of who would care for my girls when I had to run to a birth?
Then there is the grief of loss, which is exhausting. Piled on top was everything else in my life - summit planning, retreat planning, Jade’s birthday planning, broken appliances, taking care of clients, filing my taxes, renewing my driver’s license, and on and on. I felt disorganized and sloppy and all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and sleep for 9 months. But as is often the case in these dips into the shadows of the underworld, sleep evaded me.
So I tried to deepen my breath, stay present, and extend compassion to myself. Keep a sense of humor. But I was failing miserably.
It’s the overwhelm of just feeling like there are too many moving parts that gets me the most.
I want to tidy everything up, put it in nice, neat boxes and tuck it away. But instead it feels like I’m standing in front of an overstuffed dresser with drawers cracked open and clothes hanging out, reflecting back the chaos in my mind. And as much as I tell myself,
“Corina, life is messy. It cannot be contained. You will make yourself miserable trying” the pit of anxiety in my gut stubbornly sets up camp and won’t go away. My breath becomes shallow or stops altogether and my jaw clenches.
Anxiety has got to be the worst feeling.
It just takes over, clouding everything and immobilizing me in its fog. Despite intellectually knowing it is rooted in false stories and identities, it knocks me to my knees every time.
You just can’t think your way out of anxiety.
My eldest came home one afternoon in April and started burning trash. So I went outside and joined her - throwing resentment, fear, imposter syndrome, comparison, self-loathing, and self-criticism into the flames, wishing they would disintegrate as quickly and effortlessly as the pieces of paper and cardboard that represented them. But of course, it's not that easy. Nevertheless, it always feel cathartic to throw shit into the fire.
Thank Goddess for sisters on this path.
A few days after throwing stuff into the fire I spoke with my dear sister, Taina, who is extremely empathetic, having traversed the murky waters of trauma, depression and anxiety herself. She said something that I didn’t want to hear but totally needed to hear.
“You’re resisting, and it’s not helping. This is where the fuck you are right now and accepting that can help it shift.”
I fucking hate that shit.
But I knew she was right. I was resisting and that was adding another layer of angst, anger, and despair. I’m a chronic personal growth junky, always trying to fix myself, transform into the next best version of me, find and understand the deeper meaning in the muck.
Anything but feel it. Anything but accept it.
Why would anyone want to accept the feeling of not wanting to wake up each morning? Or the sense of impending doom that greeted me each day? The crushing monotony. The guilt of not being able to be the mother I want to be because I’m spinning in my head, caught up in all the dreadful what if’s of the future or regrets of the past, unable to give my daughters the one thing they want more than anything else - MY PRESENCE.
How do I accept the disgust I feel with myself?
I started to practice RAIN. I can’t remember how it came on my radar, but as so often is the case, it arrived in divine timing. RAIN is a Buddhist mindfulness practice and an acronym for a process that we can use when we get triggered and go unconscious, whether that's with our children, our partners, our parents, friends or colleagues.
RAIN helped but did not take away the discomfort. However, it did help me realize that it’s all the little things that trigger me.
It’s getting dressed in the morning because all my clothes feel or are old and worn and I wear the same things over and over because I’m stuck in financial anxiety hell and refuse to buy anything that’s not food, toilet paper, or toothpaste.
It’s the making of meals because I’m sick of all the same things over and over and uninspired about what to make, especially when my littles are so damn picky! What’s the point of putting effort into a great meal when you know it’s not going to be appreciated?
It’s the constant messes, the bills, the laundry, the caretaking.
So basically motherhood is a trigger and sometimes it feels traumatic.
Did I say that out loud?
Me, founder of MotherFly, midwife of 25 years, mother of 3 daughters.
Yes I did.
I was validated in that feeling by the therapist during one of my ketamine treatments this week.
“It makes sense that it would feel traumatic when you are not being supported in it. “
This reminded me about something Rachelle Garcia Seliga says that so resonates with me:
"Postpartum depression and anxiety are a NORMAL response to a culture that is not supporting mothers."
I came to Knoxville last week on the recommendation of a friend and encouragement from many other guides in my life to work with the medicine Ketamine. I just finished treatment #4 out of 6 yesterday.
When they say Ketamine is like therapy on steroids, they aren't kidding! In the past week I have uncovered so many deeply ingrained beliefs and patterns and the connections between them. I am processing multiple traumas from my life as well as ancestral and generational trauma. It’s big work and takes a lot of courage and it’s exhausting but so worth it. I feel 1000 times lighter.
This medicine helps you see the threads that weave together all the different parts of your life and pieces of you and it actually grows new neural pathways in your brain! I will be sharing more on the podcast soon about the transformational powers of ketamine so stay tuned...
Back to the trauma of motherhood.
It feels traumatic because we've lost our villages and we were never meant to do this alone. Aside from our social and emotional needs, even our physiology demands connection and support.
So for all you mamas out there who might just feel a little twinge of trauma around motherhood, I want to say, you’re not alone.
I see you. I feel you. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.
It simply means you need - and deserve - more support.
One of the gems that I got out of this last dip, with the help of my beloved therapist Denise, was this new perspective on how to relate to what I will call my inner archetypes. - the orphan, the judge, the warrior, the creator, the caregiver, the magician, the priestess.
She pointed out to me how active my judge gets when I hit a slump because I’m assuming that somehow I am “doing it wrong” or there is something inherently wrong with me and that’s why I’m suffering, when in reality every healer/leader/human has slumps where old stories rear their ugly heads.
A more honest perspective is that our archetypes simply cannot believe any other story than the one they have, the one that they live and embody.
When I or you or anyone hits a slump (what I refer to as a dip) this younger part of us takes the driver’s seat. It may be the orphan, the judge, the victim, the wounded child, whatever you want to call it. When this happens to me I hold myself 100% responsible for trying to get her to believe a different story. But she can’t. So then my judge comes in and adds fuel to the fire.
And that’s why everything is so damn exhausting. Imagine if your 5-year-old had to juggle the tasks of mothering and adulting? It feels burdensome to have her in the driver's seat because she doesn’t know how to drive! She doesn’t have the capacity.
So what I’ve learned is that it’s not about quieting her, fixing her, getting her to believe something new, or casting her out. It’s about bringing in my warrior, my caretaker, my creator, my priestess - the parts of me who hold stories of resilience, power, possibility, and wisdom - to hold space for this wounded child.
If you need some help with tools for doing this, I got you! Set up a free consultation with me to see if one of my programs is a good fit for you. Your wellness matters deeply and you deserve to thrive!